“Blake Lively turned to me and said, ‘I think I want to wear men’s suits’,” Renee Ehrlich tells GRAZIA on a Thursday afternoon on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The award-winning costume designer at the helm of the new stylish, post-modern thriller, A Simple Favour, recalls her first meeting with the film’s top-billed star and Lively’s brazen, albeit polite, rejection of Ehlrich’s modern fashion selects for her character. Instead, the 31-year-old actress yearned to replace them with a series of inimitably chic, three-piece suits – give or take a pocket square. Yes, before Anthony Vaccarello sprung a blazer and leather mini-shorts onto Saint Laurent’s runway, before Gucci’s skinny suits were available in a range of dyed mohair and before ankle-trouser two-pieces paid homage to Phoebe Philo’s exit at Celine, Lively had already cited the trend.
“Our director, Paul Fieg, wears tailored suits to work every single day with a walking stick,” explains Ehrlich. “And I said to Blake, ‘You know, if you want to wear this, we’re going to have to fight for this. You should look like Paul and [with him on set] we’ll always have a read on this’. And she turned around, smiled and said, ‘I think it could be iconic’.”
Working against the clock and with admittedly a limited budget allocated to the costume department, Lively and Ehlrich banded together – vastly different from co-star Anna Kendrick who, while an “incredibly meticulous actor”, would “basically wear anything I told her to wear.” “Blake was a dream to work with. She was so collaborative,” says Ehrlich. “It was endless fun and hours of fittings, phone calls and texts with ‘Look what I’ve seen’, ‘Look what I’ve got’ and ‘What about this?’. She really was terrific and of course, you can throw anything on her. She has that long lean, model body who can wear six-feet long suits. I can’t really do a lot of suits on actresses. Runway is one thing but then on an actor, it can usually look a little whack.”
Inspired by old movie references with actresses like Diane Keaton, Catherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall, Ehrlich was “looking backwards to go forward.” “We had this incredible relationship with Ralph Lauren and were able to go into the archival vaults and get some men’s tailored women’s suiting which we were able to use. It was phenomenal – and beautiful. Blake had a personal relationship with Christian Louboutin so we got boxes and boxes sent up. 800 pairs of shoes!”
Directed by Feig, from a screenplay by Jessica Sharzer and based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, the film explores the unlikely friendship between mummy blogger Stephanie (Kendrick) and enigmatic and high-powered businesswoman named Emily (Lively) who one day – after asking Stephanie to pick her son up from school – disappears from their small town in woodsy Connecticut. So many questions pertaining to her twin sister, her husband and her life insurance policy propel the fallacy of the picture perfect suburban family.
This notion of ‘nothing is ever as is seems’ is as similar to a Gossip Girl script as Emily’s manipulative ways are a nod to Serena van der Woodsen, Lively’s most-famed role. Eleven years ago, just as social media was fracturing pop culture into smithereens, two young show-runners had just wrapped the wildly successful The O.C. and decided to capture – for one last time – a television teenage drama for the ages. After getting the green-light to air on a start-up network, the CW, the show blew up in 2007 and while Sex And The City had blazed the trail for a New York-based show with a focus on fashion (thanks Patricia Field!), the wardrobes of heroines Serena and Blair were editorialised television as if plucked from a high-end fashion magazine.
The show became synonymous with enviable style, as did Lively. And magnitude-wise, Gossip Girl was essentially to the CW what House Of Cards was to Netflix (prior to Spacey’s convictions). “It was nice living and working in New York City and, you know, what a fabulous job to be on where we get to go to all of the fun restaurants and stores, and you didn’t even have the pressure of acting well, because you didn’t have time to act well,” Lively recalled recently. “It was all about that pop culture machine…you’re trying to come across as natural as possible while wearing the clothes and making sure your clothes swirl while acting and making sure the scenery is behind you.”
If this were her training ground, it comes as little surprise then that every role Lively has taken on since, fashion has been at the forefront. About town, the actress is known by stylists for her inherent say when it comes to the costume department. Just like the production of a magazine, she’s involved from pitch to page and each look from the initial meeting with the stylist to the red carpets that surround a film’s premiere date, are purposeful, meticulously planned. On the red carpet at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards, we watched from the media pit as Lively arrived in a three-piece suit – white culottes, in fact – all that were missing were her pocket-watch and she’d have morphed into the rabbit Alice followed down the hole. While it was strange a suit was worn while the Columbus Circle subway was literally melting down the road from New York’s extreme heat, what is not so uncommon was for Lively’s character’s styles to spill over into real life. A Simple Favour was also just about to release in the States.
The red carpet is manic. Bulbs are flashing 65 times a blinding second, publicists with clipboards are running around her and fans and photographers alike are literally screaming. Lively knows this Ralph Lauren suit with make headlines and thus too her new movie. As Gossip Girl once says, “Some might call this a fustercluck. But on the Upper East Side, we call it Sunday afternoon.” Serena would be proud.
A Simple Favour is in Australian cinemas now.